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Express buses to serve Clayton

By Justin Reedy

By this time next year, buses could be taking commuters from a park-and-ride lot in Jonesboro to downtown Atlanta.

But local leaders are concerned that area residents would rather ride a commuter train n a state project that's now on hold n than express buses to their jobs downtown.

The Georgia Regional Transportation Authority's Regional Express Bus Service is expected to start by the middle of next year, with 58 buses operating on 10 routes through 11 metro Atlanta counties. One of those bus lines will start on Tara Boulevard in Jonesboro and run an express route to downtown Atlanta.

The state expects to have 15,000 commuters riding the express service on a daily basis by 2010, according to GRTA acting executive director Jim Ritchey.

"This bus service is going to provide a real transportation alternative," Ritchey said.

The state has shifted its transit focus from trains to buses since Republican Gov. Sonny Perdue took office this year, and transit projects in general have received less funding than previously planned under Democratic Gov. Roy Barnes. The express bus system will now get a total of $164 million in funding, rather than the $199 million initially allocated by the state.

Local leaders are concerned that the state, which has put a proposed Macon-to-Atlanta rail line on hold for now, could be hurting development on the south side of Atlanta in what would be the rail system's corridor. And though they're happy to see transit projects involving Clayton County, some wonder if the express bus system will help the metro area relieve traffic congestion and air quality problems.

"I think express buses are a good first step," said Shane Moody, president and CEO of the Clayton County Chamber of Commerce. "I'm not sure how it will better the traffic situation, though, because I don't see how that is incentive for the executive-level employee to stay out of their car when they need to go downtown."

Other metro areas have had success with commuter train systems, Moody said, such as San Francisco and Washington, D.C., which is what Atlanta should consider when planning for transit solutions.

"When you look at successful regional transportation systems around the country, they're all designed to keep those executive level employees out of their cars," Moody said. "That's why rail would be more efficient than a bus system."

But rail systems are more expensive and take longer to implement than bus transit, Ritchey said, which is why the state is focusing on the road-based programs.